Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smiths of the Week: .44 Special revolvers, 624, 696, 296 and 2-396s.

It's time once again for my favorite feature, the Smith of the Week. And since I'm a few weeks behind, we'll make it plural, some Smiths of the Week in my favorite caliber, .44 Special.

As I have heard John Taffin quoted, I'd buy a broomstick if it had .44 Special wrote on it.

First up is the venerable N-frame, what used to be the largest Smith & Wesson frame size before the X-frame super-duper magnums were introduced, S&W .460 and .500 Magnum monster revolvers.

At top right is a S&W 624, the Smith nomenclature "6" meaning stainless-steel and "24" for the model, the original .44 Special harkening back to the famed triple-lock revolvers before Smith took away their names, like .44 Special Target Model.

This particular S&W 624 is a Lew Horton special with 3" barrel and round-butt frame with wood finger-groove combat grips my gun shop has for sale on gunbroker.

Next is the other end of the S&W .44
Special timeline, a new S&W 396NG Night Guard, an L-frame 5-shot .44 Special revolver, which I currently have on layaway at the gun shop as my next acquisition. The 396NG has a front night sight, a Scandium-alloy frame and rubber grips to help soak up the recoil of the powerful .44 Special loads. The cylinder is black stainless-steel which also aids in taming the recoil of the powerful .44 rounds.

Next we have a S&W 296 AirLite Titanium, similar to the 396 but double-action-only with a fully-enclosed hammer. It looks more like the Bodyguard style of hammer-shrouded frame than the Centennial style of enclosed hammer, but there ain't no hammer "nub" to cock it like the Bodyguard S&W 38 and 638 models. It has an alloy frame and Titanium cylinder which makes it very light. But you can't repeal the laws of physics. That also means it will kick like a mule with all but the lightest .44 Special cowboy loads. Smith & Wesson prints on the barrel that no loads are recommended above 200 grains. But 200-grain loads will still kick with AirLite revolvers. I had a chance to buy this one but passed it up for that reason. It's light, but it's too light to be fun shooting, which is one of my must-have features for a gun.

Tam has a S&W 296 that lives in her purse, but all I gotta say is she's more of a man than I am if her 296 shoots anything like the next one up today, the 396 Mountain Lite.

Next up is the S&W .44 Special I allowed to get away with no regrets as it taught me the aforementioned lesson about being too light to shoot and enjoy. It's a Model 396 AirLite Scandium-Titanium Mountain Lite.

I got the chance to test-fire one of these at another gun shop and I'm glad I did. The allure of Scandium-Titanium lightweight revolvers completely dissipated in 15 rounds of full-house .44 Special ammo, all in the 200-grain weight which Smith printed right on the barrel as the max allowed for the 396 Mountain Lite.

I found out why one gunwriter referred to it as the Mountain Bite. Ouch! Back to the gun shop it went and I bought a Thunder Ranch S&W 24 instead.

I have not been able to test-fire the S&W 396NG as it is a new gun and not even employees of the gun shop are allowed to shoot new guns until they're paid for. But my fond hope and expectation is that it will not replicate the "Mountain Bite" experience. The steel cylinder and rubber grips supposedly make it "shootable" according to all gun reviews I have read thus far.

Then last but certainly not least is another S&W beauty in stainless steel we just got in at the gun shop. It's a S&W 696, an L-frame all-stainless 5-shot DA/SA revolver with 3" barrel, round-butt frame and wood combat grips. It's most likely a Lew Horton special like the S&W 624, but Bluebook doesn't say so therefore I can't be sure about that.

This is the first S&W 696 I ever saw as they are fairly rare and I was sorely tempted to not let it go when I first handled it. I even went so far as getting the shop owner's approval for laying it away for payment, but then had a moment of sanity and instead chose the 396 Night Guard. It's lighter to carry than the all-stainless 696 and the same 5-round size. I really won't know I made the right decision until I can shoot the 396NG.

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